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A Companion to New Media Dynamics by Axel Bruns, Jean Burgess, John Hartley

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Chapter 25

The Internet and the Opening Up of Political Space

Stephen Coleman

Opening Up and Closing Down

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, the spaces and practices of what we commonly refer to as “politics” were characterized by an intriguing tension. On the one hand, the enactment of politics seemed more than ever before to take the form of a performance: to be stage-managed and rehearsed for media consumption; to conform to standardized narrative tropes that seemed to turn each political episode into a segment of a quasi-soap opera; to reduce material reality to symbolic mediation; to close down space for public voice. On the other hand, a somewhat desperate rhetoric of participation was in the air: politicians were going to great lengths to show how “in touch” they were with public opinion; media interactivity (from phone-ins and live studio discussions to all manner of online, consultative projects) was exploited in order to galvanize the seemingly lethargic citizenry; and notions of coproductive governance were the subject of a range of government-driven experiments. Politics was opening up. Politics was closing down.

In fact, politics was—and still is—being redefined. Few any longer believe that the political can be confined to a narrow cluster of institutional activities in which voting is the high point of civic action and law-making the end point of governing. The political seems to be seeping out of all sorts of cultural corners and relationships, from claims ...

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